Yuman Tribe

Yuman Indians. An important linguistic family whose tribes before being gathered on reservations occupied an extensive territory in the extreme south west portion of the United States and north Lower California, including much of the valley of Colorado River, the lower valley of the Gila, and all of extreme south California. The family was formerly supposed to include also the Seri of west Sonora and Tiburon Islands in the Gulf of California, but these have been determined to belong to a distinct stock (the Serian) bearing no linguistic relation to any of the tribes within the United States, while the tribes that occupied the south half of Lower California, so far as can be judged from the meager linguistic evidence, belong to another family yet unnamed. These latter were distinguishable from the Yuman tribes as being probably the lowest in culture of any Indians of North America, for their inhospitable environment, which made them wanderers, was unfavorable to the foundation of government, even of the rude and unstable kind elsewhere found. The names of a large number of rancherias or villages have been preserved, and as many of these antedated mission rule, they indicate that their occupants had at least entered upon a rude social life and lived under some sort of recognized authority, though less definite and binding than among most other tribes. There are also the natives of not a few of the divisions usually termed tribes, but the limits of country claimed by these and their inter-relations are almost unknown. Father Baegert, who is perhaps the best authority on the Lower California Indians, gave five distinct languages, which represented as many divisions or groups of tribes. These were, from the north southward: Cochimi, Laimon (usually considered a branch of Cochimi), Waicuri, Uchiti (usually considered a branch of Waicuri), and Pericu. Of these, however, only the Cochimi can be definitely regarded as Yuman. Later authorities usually recognize but three linguistic divisions for Lower California, viz, Pericu, Waicuri (a distinct stock), and Cochimi, the last occupying the peninsula north of about lat. 26°. This is a very unsatisfactory grouping, as it is improbable that a single language, the Cochimi, extended over 6 degrees of latitude; but it is the best that can be made in our present lack of knowledge, and the linguistic groups may be accepted as divisional names under which to group the numerous rancherias in which these now extinct tribes lived.

Passing from the south to the north end of the peninsula a marked change for the better was observed. The social groups appear to have been better defined; the tribes made fine basketry and pottery, and in many other ways were further advanced. They lived in communal huts, very well constructed of cottonwood and well thatched. No better example of the power of environment to better mans condition can be found than that shown as the lower Colorado is reached. Here are tribes of the same family, remarkable not only for their fine physical development, but living in settled villages with well-defined tribal lines, practicing a rude but effective agriculture, and well advanced in many primitive Indian arts. The usual Indian staples were raised except tobacco, these tribes preferring a wild tobacco of their region to the cultivated. None of the Colorado River tribes borrowed the art of irrigation from the Pueblo peoples, consequently their crops often suffered from drought. All of them depended more or less on the chase—the river tribes less, those of the interior more. Mezquite beans, piton nuts, tornillas, and various seeds and roots were important articles of food. None of them were boatmen; in crossing rivers and transporting their goods they employed rude rafts, or balsas, made of bundles of reeds or twigs. Apparently all the river tribes cremated their dead, and with them all articles of personal property. The climate favored nudity, the men wearing only the breechcloth, and not always that, while women were content with a short petticoat made of strips of bark.

Regarding the character of the tribes of the Rio Colorado in the 18th century, Fray Francisco Garcés 1 says: “The Indian men of its banks are well-formed, and the Indian women fat and healthy; the adornment of the men, as far as the Jamajabs [Mohave], is total nudity; that of the women is reduced to certain short and scanty petticoats of the bark of trees; they bathe at all seasons, and arrange the hair, which they always wear long, in diverse figures, utilizing for this purpose a kind of gum or sticky stud. Always are they painted, some with black, others with red, and many with all colors. All those of the banks of the river are very generous and lovers of their country, in which they do not hunt game because they abound in all provisions.”

Important tribes of the northern Yuman area are the Cocopa, Diegueño, Havasupai, Maricopa, Mohave, Tonto, Walapai, Yavapai, and Yuma. These differ considerably, both physically and otherwise, the river tribes being somewhat superior to the others. The Yuma are a fine people, rather superior to the Cocopa, although closely resembling them physically.
The population of the Yuman tribes within the United States numbered about 3,700 in 1909.

In addition to the tribes mentioned, the following were also of Yuman affinity, but so far as known they are either extinct or their tribal identity has been lost: Aguachacha, Bahacecha, Cajuenche, Coanopa, Cocoueahra (?), Gualta, Guamua, Guanabepe, Haglli, Hoabonoma, Iguanes, Japul, Kivezaku, Ojiopas, Quigyuma, Quilmurs, Sakuma, Tzekupama.Citations:

  1. Garcés, Diary, 1775-76, 435, 1900[]


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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